7 tips for building and maintaining successful fundraising relationships

Claire IrvingA guest blog by Claire Irving.

Like many things in life, good fundraising comes from successful relationships with people. Meeting our goals is reliant on making lasting connections; with donors, team members, other departments and stakeholders. So how can we make sure that we have colleagues and supporters onside?


Pause for a moment and reflect on your personal style at work and home. Are you approachable? Do you make eye contact and radiate a warm and open attitude that says I’m happy to talk or do you stand grim-faced with your arms crossed? Do you treat others as you would like to be treated or are you dismissive or unreliable? Our posture, open body language, the way we treat those around us with kindness and sincerity are all key to developing successful relationships. Being approachable is one of the most powerful tools we have as fundraisers, because if people are happy to talk to us, the sky is the limit.

Listen and observe

Whether it’s a colleague or potential supporter, active listening is critical to get people on side and keep them there. Good donor relationships come when supporters’ needs, wishes and wants are front and centre – how will you know what they are unless you ask open questions and truly pay attention to what their words and body language are telling you? The same applies for colleagues – a team member agrees to work on something tricky and time sensitive whilst sitting with negative body language. They told you that their workload is problematic – did you listen? Did you take the time to understand their circumstances and point of view? Offer help with reprioritisation? Acknowledge that you know you’ve asked them to do something tough and really appreciate the effort they are going to? Pushing your agenda regardless of responses is counterproductive at best so make sure you are actively listening.

Be open and honest

Be clear with supporters and colleagues about what you can and can’t do. There’s little use in telling the organiser of a fabulous but tiny bake sale that you will sell tickets to your donor base if you know this can’t or won’t happen. They will end up disappointed and unhappy and you will have lost a valuable community donor. Listen to what people want and tell them courteously what you can do, explaining how and when it will happen. Then do it.

Check understanding

Whether it’s a colleague or donor, at the end of a conversation reflect back your understanding of what has been said and agreed. This ensures there are no misunderstandings, sets expectations appropriately and allows you to build trust. You’ll both feel reassured and it avoids the unprofessionalism and embarrassment of having to get back in contact to double-check something, or worse, getting the outcome wrong. Nothing loses donors quicker than poor customer service.

Do what you say you are going to do

Everyone responds well to having their expectations met or exceeded. It is vital for fundraisers to make sure we deliver on promises made. If we don’t, why should our supporters invest in our organisation with their money or their time? Why should other departments in our organisation go the extra mile to help us achieve our aims when they have their own priorities? Establishing trust and continuing to earn it are vital components in keeping people on side, so agree what you’re going to do and then do it. Simple.

Be candid and kind

I love knowing what is expected of me and I’m sure most people feel the same. If things haven’t gone to plan, I want to know so that I can do better next time and I expect to be told with respect, openness and clear actions going forward. Difficult conversations can be nerve-wracking for everyone involved and if a project hasn’t gone well, it’s important that we learn from it and move on. When things haven’t gone to plan, speak to colleagues with kindness and candour. This helps keep communication open, retain trust and nurture positive relationships in the workplace, which in turn benefits your fundraising.

Thank you

You do something for someone. What is it that makes you feel good? The success? The act of contribution? Or someone acknowledging your effort and thanking you for it? In reality it’s probably all of the above, but the simple art of thanking someone is vital if you are going to build and keep relationships going – a business critical activity for fundraisers. Why should a donor continue to give to your organisation if they feel their effort and contribution is not worthwhile and valued? Are you happy spending your organisation’s money trying to find new donors to replace the ones you’ve lost by not thanking them promptly and with care? If it’s not there already, build thanking into your communication plan for each supporter and do it every time.

Successful fundraising is all about people. Following these basic principles will help you create and keep good relationships with your donors and colleagues that will positively affect your income and make the world a nicer place.

Claire Irving is director of fundraising and marketing at St Catherine’s Hospice

This article was first published in The Fundraiser.

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